During the period of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sunway Education Group (SEG) is putting the health and well-being of its staff first and foremost with special initiatives such as developing hand sanitizers and collaborating on making face masks for its gradually returning staff. In preparation for welcoming back students in stages in accordance with the advice of the Higher Education Ministry, Sunway has also been increasing sanitization and put in place social distancing measures encompassing various reminders on social distancing and safety precautions all around the campus grounds.
The hand sanitizers were developed by the laboratory technical staff at the Department of Biological Sciences at Sunway University. The hand sanitizer, based on a formula recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) includes extra ingredients in the form of essential oils such as lemongrass, lavender, eucalyptus, and fresh citrus.
The team of lab tech support staff who developed the hand sanitizers is led by Sunway University’s Senior Laboratory Coordinator Norha Saifudin. Assisting her are Senior Laboratory Officers Timothy Yu Yee Ong, Nurafifah Daud, and Dhaniah Mohamad. Sunway University’s Head of Department of Biological Sciences, Professor Abhi Veerakumarasivam oversaw the team.
Besides the hand sanitizer, SEG also worked with internationally renowned Malaysian fashion designer Zang Toi on a face mask manufactured and produced by Dr Mama, famous for its reusable washable fabric masks.
“Kudos to Norha and her team of Laboratory Officers for taking the initiative to work on the hand sanitizer. The health and well-being of all our staff, as well as our students, is our utmost priority”, said Sunway Education Group CEO Dr Elizabeth Lee.
“It is really great to see Zang Toi as well as Dr Mama coming together with us on this to help break the chain of infection. Hand sanitizers and masks have been distributed to all staff on campus”, said Dr Lee.
She added that in anticipation of the gradual return of staff and students to the campus, “There has been frequent disinfection of work surfaces and high-touch surfaces as well as provision of hand-sanitizers throughout campus. We are ensuring that all university-wide working spaces and communal areas, such as labs, the library, lounges, cafeteria have social distancing measures. We are also exploring the use of more partitions. With all these precautionary measures in place, we look forward to welcoming back our students to campus. We are also looking into gifting our students the special Zang Toi and Dr Mama face mask to welcome them back”.
“At the moment, we have in place strict enforcement of health and safety requirements; on top of the compulsory wearing of some kind of protective face mask, temperature checks are administered by the campus Security Department at all entry gates into the campus. All staff have to declare their health status daily upon entry, the same will apply to students when they are back. All staff who are back at work are appropriately and physically distanced to minimize physical contact”, continued Dr Lee.
According to Norha, her team took three days to check their chemical stock and calculate the chemicals required for the formulation of the hand sanitizer based on that which is provided by WHO. The basic ingredients for the alcohol-based sanitizer contain 80% alcohol include, glycerol (a skin conditioning agent), hydrogen peroxide, water, and essential oils.
“The alcohol is measured and poured into a large bottle, into which is added hydrogen peroxide and glycerol, topped with sterile distilled water and mixed. The solution is then dispensed into 50 ml plastic bottles, and quarantined for 72 hours before use. The quarantine is to ensure any spores present in the bottles are destroyed. We added in essential oils, known for their antibacterial and antiviral properties against human pathogens which also helps to reduce the alcohol smell”, explained Norha.
One of the challenges faced by Norha and her team was the large volume they had to prepare and then divide into 2,000 small bottles for distribution to all SEG staff. The team generally worked between four to five hours a day in the lab preparing the hand sanitizers.
“All calculations on the formula and tasks were discussed beforehand between the four of us. So, when we enter the lab, every one of us already knew what is to be done for the day. It enabled us to work effectively and finish the task faster,” said Nurafifah who is proud to have been part of the initiative and able to contribute towards the cause.
“I feel very involved in the process of making the hand sanitizers. Professor Abhi’s input in such regard is extremely helpful. The engagement within our department and University also helps raise our department profile amongst our SEG colleagues”, said Timothy. He feels that the hand sanitizers are a crucial addition to help curb infection of the Covid-19 virus.
“Even though the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States recommends soap and water as better prevention, it is not always feasible to have soap and water around. The hand sanitizer is the next best precautionary preventive measure we have as it can be easily carried around. With the component of appropriate more 60% alcohol being vital to the killing of pathogens, I believe our hand sanitizer will play a crucial part in curbing infection of COVID-19. “
“According to Annika Kratzel and colleagues’ publication in the CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, ethanol-based hand sanitizer is efficient in inactivating the virus SARS-CoV-2 (which is the culprit of this pandemic) at 99.99998% in 30 s at a concentration of >30% (our hand sanitizer). One thing of note, 30 seconds is the recommended time”, explained Timothy.
Dhaniah concurs, highlighting that the hand sanitizer acts as a disinfecting reagent. “Alcohol denatures the proteins, nucleic acids, and destabilizes bacteria cell membranes. While hand sanitizers physically help remove germs on the skin, the best way is still washing with soap and water”.
Professor Abhi is proud that his team of lab tech support staff helped to realize the idea of Sunway University producing their own hand sanitizer, an idea that was first mooted by Sunway Education Group Director of Marketing and Customer Experience, Wong Lei Lei.
“It is great to see my colleagues taking the initiative to be innovative and proactively repurposing themselves as we embrace these new challenges especially with this Covid-19 pandemic,” said Professor Abhi.